A-Level vs STPM: Which One Should You Pick?

A-Level or STPM? Check out what are the differences between these two courses as we pit them against each other.

Updated 17 May 2019

A-Level vs STPM: Which One Should You Pick? - Feature-Image

Many students have long pondered over this question: which one is better – A-Level or STPM?

Seeking for answers, they will tread miles to interrogate relatives, seniors, teachers, essentially anyone who can satisfy them with the most genuine answers. Some may even pop the question in online forums, social media groups and Google to seek better clarity.

However, the truth is that there is no one course that is better than the other (yes, this applies to other Pre-U courses as well). There is only a course that suits you best based on your needs and preferences.

With that said, we’ve broken down both A-Level and STPM to separate points of consideration so that you can be more informed to make the ultimate decision.

#1. How long is the torture length of study?

A-Level vs STPM - Duration of Study


Flexible duration, ranging from 15 months to 24 months depending on the intake. Most colleges offer several intakes in a year, primarily in January, March, July and September.


Fixed duration of 18 months with only one intake a year in May.

What You Should Consider:

Are you in a hurry to complete your studies?

If you are considering STPM, you will need to wait for about 5 months after completing SPM before you can start your STPM studies.

A-Level, on the other hand, has intakes in January and March which means that minimal time is wasted. Opting for the January and March intakes will mean that you'll be ahead of your STPM peers by up to 6 months.

Bottom Line: If you're not in a rush, STPM can be a good choice. If you’re eager to get started quickly, opt for A-Level.

#2. How much does it cost?

A-Level vs STPM - Costs of Study


Fees can range from RM16,000 to a whopping RM120,000 at International Schools!

However, many colleges offer scholarships (sometimes up to 100% tuition fee waiver) if you manage to obtain outstanding SPM results. #ohyes


Less than RM1,000 in total, making it one of the cheapest routes to tertiary education!

What You Should Consider:

Are fees a huge concern for you?

Speak to your parents to see what kind of budget they have set aside for you.

The majority of the scholarships offered by colleges and universities are usually partial scholarships, which means that you will still need to fork out some money.

Even if you secure a full scholarship for A-Level, there may still be other costs and expenses that you will need to incur, such as Cambridge exam fees, lab fees as well as accommodation fees if you are living away from home.

Bottom Line: If cost is a major concern for you, opt for STPM.

#3. What subjects can you take?

A-Level vs STPM - Subjects


Offers extensive range of courses including Languages and Literature, Social Sciences, Arts, Sports as well as the usual Science subjects.


Also offers a similar broad range of subjects.

However, most schools typically assign their Form 6 classes with predetermined sets of subjects. It may not be easy for you to pick and drop subjects as you desire.

What You Should Consider:

Are you planning to take subjects or subject combinations that are less popular?

In general, both A-Level and STPM are designed to cater to a wide pool of students with diverse interests.

However, in practice, not all schools or colleges are capable of offering such extensive subjects, due to the low take-up rates by students or lack of qualified teachers or lecturers.

You are more likely to be able to select “niche” subjects like Psychology for A-Level, and also choose subject combinations that encompass both Arts and Science with A-Level. On the other hand, STPM may be a bit more rigid with subjects and subject combinations, limiting you to a set of predetermined subjects.

The key here is to do some research and look for specific colleges or schools that offer the specific subjects and subject combinations that you are looking for.

Bottom Line: If you want to have more flexibility and the freedom to pick your desired set of subjects, then A-Level is a wiser choice.

#4. What is the quality of teaching and teaching environment?

A-Level vs STPM - Teaching Environment


Flexible dress code, air-conditioned and well-equipped classrooms and lecture halls, calibre of lecturers is generally good (depending on colleges).


Semi-formal dress code, classrooms may not be air-conditioned or equipped with necessary teaching facilities, calibre of teachers may vary (depending on schools).

What You Should Consider:

Is the teaching quality and teaching environment a major concern?

For STPM, as far as teaching environment is concerned, you can expect the same environment of study which you’ve been through from Form 1 - 5.

If teaching quality and teaching environment is important to you, then taking A-Level will give you more flexibility to scout for suitable colleges that fit your standards, compared to STPM.

Bottom Line: Essentially, this is a case of you get what you pay for. If you are looking for higher standards of teaching environment and teaching quality, then go for A-Level. Otherwise, you can’t really complain about STPM.

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#5. Will my qualification be recognised?

A-Level vs STPM - Recognition


A-Level is one of the most well-recognised qualifications globally.

However, very few local public institutions accept A-Level. This is to leave room for students from locally administered Pre-University programmes such as STPM, Matrikulasi, Asasi, etc.


Similarly, STPM is also widely recognised internationally.

STPM is accepted by both private and public institutions locally, and also universities abroad.

What You Should Consider:

Where do you plan to study your Degree?

In most cases, students who take A-Level have a strong desire to pursue their Degrees overseas, while STPM students will want to proceed to public institutions in Malaysia.

If you plan to study in local private institutions, both A-Level and STPM are accepted. However, do bear in mind that there are certain courses that are not being offered by local private universities, such as Veterinary Science.

Bottom Line: As a rule of thumb, if you want to pursue your studies in Malaysian public universities, STPM would be the best choice. If you want to further your studies abroad, A-Level is generally a better choice, since certain STPM subjects are taught in Malay.

#6. How will you be assessed?

A-Level vs STPM - Assessment


100% exam-based which is separated into two parts - AS Level and A2 Level. Each part contributes 50% to your overall A-Level grade.


20% - 40% weightage for school-based assessments. 60% - 80% weightage for centralised exams.

What You Should Consider:

Are you looking for an “easy” Pre-University course?

Although both A-Level and STPM are structurally different, both courses are very intensive.

A-Level papers are set and marked by representatives from the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). On the other hand, STPM papers are graded by the Malaysian Examinations Council (MPM) and your results will also be monitored and endorsed by a representative from the Cambridge Assessment in the UK.

You are expected to work extra hard (compared to SPM) as the syllabuses are a lot more in-depth and condensed.

It doesn’t even matter which is harder - the fact remains that both A-Level and STPM requires a lot of commitment and discipline from you.

Bottom Line: If you want to progress to your Degree with ease, then both A-Level and STPM is a big no-no. Consider other Pre-University courses instead, such as the American Degree Program (ADP), Canadian Pre-University (CPU) or Foundation courses.

#7. How is the quality of student support?

A-Level vs STPM - Support Services


Generally satisfactory with most colleges offering university placement assistance and counselling services.


Support offered may be limited, with most schools providing just counselling services. University placement assistance may be minimal. Quality may also vary depending on which school you go to.

What You Should Consider:

Do you need a good student support service?

Do not take lightly on such support services.

University placement centres will usually assist students by guiding them with their university placement tests and facilitating in their university (and even scholarship) applications! This is crucial if you are looking to further your studies abroad.

Counselling services will be essential if you are *touchwood* afflicted with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder and stress, a common occurrence among students. Perhaps your family is going through a hard time, or you may be struggling to cope with exam stress - it is times like these that you will need and appreciate such support.

Bottom Line: Again, it all boils down to what you get is what you pay for. If you need quality student support services, then going for A-Level would be best.

Now that we’ve laid out the major components of each course for you to consider, it is now your call to decide which one to pursue.

It is very important for you to pick a Pre-U programme that fits your preferences and studying style. You may struggle and risk jeopardising your grades and entry to your desired Degree if you end up with the wrong Pre-U course.

So do the necessary research and if you need help, feel free to take our Pre-University Course Recommender quiz here.

Planning to take A-Level but not sure which college you should apply for? Then head over to our A-Level Colleges Comparison Table and find one that suits you best!

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    Chia Wei Choong

    Chia Wei Choong

    Retiring night owl. Occasionally addicted to caffeine and absolutely addicted to fried chicken.